The Deep, White Secret

Think Whistler is the only thing that British Columbia has to offer? Think again.

Nov 1, 1998
Outside Magazine
Skiing in British Columbia

By the time you get to the top of Whistler Peak, you've already missed it. Literally and completely. The best of the West, Canada's or anyone else's: millions of acres—OK, hectares—of sunny, high, and dry mountain ranges covered with fluff that's begging for the caress of powder skis.

Selkirks, Purcells, Monashees, Cariboos: It's easy to overlook these lesser-known interior ranges, into which helicopter jockeys fly extreme-ski heroes every year for endless reels of deep-steeps powder footage. Especially when you fly by this crooked spine of central British Columbia in the window seat of a 737, about a half-hour out of Vancouver, the trailhead for the well-worn path to Whistler-Blackcomb.
Sure, North America's most mega of megaresorts is still numero uno on everybody's "best" list—until they actually ski there enough to learn the truth: All too often, Whistler's base elevation of only 2,214 feet, coupled with a popularity that just won't peak, leaves tens of thousands of frustrated thrill seekers quite literally in a numbing fog.

Now don't get your Capilene drawers all in a bunch, Whistler faithful. We have not come to bury your vaunted burg, which clearly has enough microbrew providers and macro-lift essentials to make everybody happy at least some of the time. But Whistler's rapid ascension to superpower status has obscured the world's view of a handful of truly worthy neighbors to the east: Big White and Silver Star in the sunny Okanagan Valley, and Sun Peaks (formerly Tod Mountain) in the dry hills above Kamloops. They're places we learned about by following the caravan of Vancouver-based SUVs—more than a few of them driven by Whistler lifties and ski instructors. An exercise in escapism? Absolutely. Whistler, they say, is the place to make money. Central British Columbia is the place to ski.

This is doubly true today, with the revolutionary discovery that you don't need a helicopter to plant your poles in BC's interior. Recent upgrades at these off-the-path spots have taken the rough edge off venturing into this mountainous maze. And the all-time disparity between U.S. and north-of-the-border dollars renders all Canadian ski resorts—with lift tickets averaging about U.S. $30—a bargain buy.

And a potential addiction. Every one of BC's anti-Whistlers offers Utah-dry snow, oft-bright skies, and an earlier, more dependable season. Better yet, they're just far enough out of Land Cruiser range to ward off the day-skiing swarms that inundate Whistler on weekends and holidays.